It’s a shame more gigs don’t pass through the Colston Hall in Bristol. At present the city’s biggest indoor venue, its large main room and excellent acoustics make it far superior to the O2 Academy down the road, yet the glutton of comedians and other performance art events that come here forces concerts to be at a premium. For this reason, the arrival of metal’s manic genius on the first date of his short UK tour supporting new album Transcendence is a welcome change to the oft-cramped and hit-and-miss environment of the Hall’s closest rival, and inside the atmosphere is incredibly relaxed, people spread out across all floors of the foyer and in a jovial mood for some (self-proclaimed) ‘lower-mid tier prog metal’.
It’s a space that opening band, Norwegian outfit Leprous (7), make full use of immediately. Dressed in uniform black, their atmospheric and at times unsettling prog metal weaves its way around the building beautifully, keeping the attention of everyone who has come out to support them early. Indeed, from the comments of some punters, the band are already building a strong core audience on these shores with songs like ‘Third Law’ and ‘The Flood’ garnering a very warm reception. They’re also not afraid of throwing shapes either, ‘Rewind’ providing a nice break from the ethereal and summoning the earth-shattering instead with crushing riffs and driving force. Plenty is said about Tesseract (5) as well although probably not in the way the band will want to hear, in particular one remark of ‘I think I just watched [vocalist Dan Tompkins] try to ‘vogue’ to metal for 45 minutes’. Ouch. Make no mistake, they’re a talented bunch and garner cheers with the likes of ‘Concealing Fate Part 2: Deception’ and a soaring ‘Survival’, whilst their light show is a sight to behold, but there’s something missing tonight. This could partly be down to the fact that they’re at the end of their cycle for last album Polaris and everything is very familiar by now (they too have a strong nucleus of avid followers) but there are also a lot of bands around now doing the same as them and consequently they’re fading into the crowd somewhat. Album number four needs an extra spark if they’re to climb back to the top again.
“Are you ready for a prog metal party?!” Devin Townsend (9) yells upon entry tonight. “It’s not nerdy, it’s cool, I promise. PSYCH! NERRRRRRRDS!” and with that he and his superb band launch into ‘Rejoice’ from Z²: Dark Matters and Colston Hall laps up every note for the next 95 minutes with gusto. It’s always a delight to have the Canadian version of the Mad Hatter over here and he knows this, delivering yet another high-quality, sublime performance. There’s barely a foot wrong and the highlights are plenty – ‘Stormbending’, one of the standout tracks from Transcendence, is somehow even more majestic live than on record and fits so seamlessly in against more classic numbers like ‘Hyperdrive’ and ‘Supercrush’ that it goes to show how consistent Devin’s output has been across his career. ‘March of the Poozers’ sees Ziltoid puppets dance in unison and only the venue’s soundproofing stops everyone outside hearing the roar as main set closer ‘Kingdom’ kicks in. Townsend, forever gurning and engaging in his usual style of awkward, rambling banter is a true visionary of the global metal scene and the fact that he has finally reached the heady heights of playing Hammersmith Apollo is true testament to his appeal in the UK. Following a ‘fake encore’, where he stands at the side of the stage and encourages the audience to yell for his return, he turns out a wonderful acoustic version of ‘Ih-Ah!’ and rounds everything off with another new song, ‘Higher’. The only difference in opinion leaving comes down to whether Sunday ends your week or begins it; if the former applies, then it’s the perfect finale. If the latter, it’s kicked things off in brilliant, brilliant fashion.
Devin Townsend setlist
Where We Belong
Planet of the Apes
Ziltoid Goes Home
March of the Poozers